There has always been a part of me that was intrigued by the idea of tiny living. When I was a child, my mom had a friend that lived in a tiny home. My memories of it were the cozy use of the space. The friend had every space filled and while I believe I picked up on the idea that she was there because it was what she could afford at the time, I loved the packed in beauty of it. Her daughter had a bedroom that was the size of a closet. In hindsight, that was likely what it was, but to the mind of a 7 year old, it was like a playhouse. Even as I grew a bit older, the idea pulled at me. I remember after my parents divorce, moving into a house and having my bedroom and deciding that I wanted the closet as my sleeping space. It was oddly shaped and I loved that it felt like a secret room with nooks and crannies that were filled with secrets only I knew.
I had a wildly active imagination.
I still do.
So moving into a travel trailer didn’t seem that crazy. Taking all the possessions I had managed to acquire after 20 years of living in a 1600 square foot home and somehow squeezing them into a space that was less than 300 square feet tugged at those same places in my heart. I mean, how difficult could it possibly be?
Difficult. Very, very difficult.
I hadn’t realized that I had accumulated so many things. I mean, I knew I had a lot of stuff, but I didn’t know. It didn’t seem like I had that much. I had a reputation for being the one to get rid of things. Purge the environment and free yourself from the burden of having so many things! Except that I still had a lot of things. Did I have as many things as if we had decided to live in a house twice as large as the one we were living in? We had considered moving at one point. Buying that bigger home in the ‘burbs. Filling it with the things we thought we “needed” and would give us the life we thought we wanted. But we didn’t, so surely, I had just a few things to do away with. I was so wrong. So, so wrong. When we left last year, we gathered the things we thought we would need into the RV for our first year out and then took the rest of the possessions I had no idea what to do with and put them in one of the bedrooms in the house we decided not to sell right away. Oh, and left the things I didn’t want to face in the attic, garage and basement. So while I likely did find us to have fewer things than the average American, we did not have few things.
We left with the knowledge that we would return next year and decide where would go with the rest after we knew whether this was a one year trip or something we would invest in longer.
Interestingly enough, some of the things that we had brought with us, didn’t seem quite as important once we were gone. Did I really need my booties, my 8 pairs of flips flops (yes), my converse sneakers AND my cowboy boots? Did I need 30+ dresses, multiple t-shirts, running clothes, leggings, jeans, dressy shirts and sweatshirts? I did not. We purged even the things we had brought with us in this first year. And while I knew this was a very big step and hugely eye opening, I had the weight of knowing we were going to go back to our sticks and bricks home and would have to face “the room”. What was I going to do with the dishes, the linens, the toys, the CRAP I had still in that room? I had more clothes there! More. Clothes! I wasn’t even wearing all of things that I had brought with me and I had more? What the hell was wrong with me? It became a point of anxiety for me the closer the date to return was. What was I going to do with all of that stuff? Give it away? Sell it? Keep it? Some of it was a gift or had sentimental meaning. I mean, come on! How would I ever decide what was important enough to keep and what needed to go?
When we arrived back in Fort Wayne, I avoided the house for a few days. I didn’t want to face the attic, the garage, “the room” with all of the things that were waiting for me to face them. So when I finally went, I picked what I thought would be the easiest: the attic. I took my trusted friend Rose and my resolve to live the life I knew I wanted and climbed the stairs into the room closest to the sun (I am certain it may have actually been on the sun because it was that hot in there) and brought down box after box after box of stuff that I had accumulated. Some of it was easy. Did I need these books that I had obviously forgotten about over the years? Nope! Gone! Did I need the curtains or decorating crap that I had thought I would reuse but never did? It’s outta here! But some of it was so hard. Christmas ornaments and toys and my children’s memorabilia all there, expecting to make the cut. I emptied the entire attic in one day and immediately removed the things that I knew were a no and added the harder things to “the room”.
I left the garage to Shannon. It was an avoidance to some extent, but I justified it by reminding myself that most of that stuff was his anyway.
Eventually, of course, I had to face “the room”.
I attacked the easy things first. Our son was moving into his first apartment and needed some things, so I had a person I could give a few things to that would be helpful to him as he faced the world as a real adult. We had all of things that a starting out adult needed. So boom! First round of purging done.
And I tackled the things that seemed important a year before but seemed less so after we had enjoyed our tiny space. I decided that I wasn’t going to keep most of my winter things. I have no intention of spending time in a place that has Indiana winters again. Even if we bought a house and set up a permanent space, winter wasn’t going to factor into that if I had anything to do with it. So winter boots, coats, gloves, hats, etc… gone. I did keep a bit of each thing for possible colder hiking or running, but nothing else. I got rid of anything that didn’t fit or I hadn’t even remembered I had. I wasn’t going to hold onto the “maybe if I finally lose the weight again” clothes because it just made me feel bad and if that happens, I’ll be more than happy to buy something that fits at that time. Freed up some space without feeling too much pain.
So confession time…
I sat in “the room” for a while. Looking around. Unable to completely purge it all and finally resolved to making 3 seperate piles. There was the donate pile. There was the sell pile. There was the put in storage and think about it in a year pile. Yes, I decided that I was unwilling to part with everything and decided that parting with more things, but allowing myself the freedom to keep some things was my only course of action.
I had things from my children I could not part with. There were things from my own childhood that held special meaning. And let’s be real here, I was not going to get rid of the multiple running medals that I had earned over the last 12 years. I valued those like they were actual gold and I wasn’t about to say goodbye. So Shannon and I sought out the smallest storage unit we thought we could get away with and decided that as long as it fit in that unit, it could stay. If it wasn’t going to fit, if we filled it too much, we would reevaluate the need for the thing and go forward from there.
Oddly, that made it a bit easier to let go of more things. I found a women’s shelter I could donate to and got rid of more clothes, household items and toys. It was liberating. I got rid of games and movies and electronics and decorating items. All of things seemed so important at the time, but now I could just release them. Give them to someone who might be able to beautify their space or their body and feel happy with them in their space. It seemed like it made more sense than for me to hold on to them simply because they were mine. The more I gave away, the more I wanted to give. I felt happy giving to people who needed these things. I no longer did.
When I finally took the last box out of that room, I swear it was almost a spiritual moment. I did keep some things, but they were things that I felt okay about keeping. It wasn’t because they held some power over me.
The crazy thing is that as we have been back on the road again, I discovered a podcast about minimalism and I know when I go back to face that storage unit, I will be able to remove even more from my life. Because things don’t make my life feel meaningful, experiences do. People do.
I am living in the tiny space that my 7 year old self thought would be the best. I have things around me that mean something and I’m doing things that fulfill me. I still have as many flip flops as I can convince Shannon I need (7 pairs) and too many running clothes and t-shirts. But the things in our home bring us joy and feel special to us.
As the Minimalists say in their podcast, “Love people, use things. The opposite never works.” I hope that every day, I practice that.